Archive: April 18th, 2005

About fluid and fixed width layouts

Roger Johansson details his elastic design.

Some clarification

I’d like to just clear up a few small points just in case there is some misunderstanding.

When I spoke about fixed width and liquid width layouts recently, I don’t recall ever saying:

"Liquid rulez! Fixed is teh sux0r!"

I don’t think any reasonable web developer would suggest that one method is completely right and one method is completely wrong. Instead, the intelligent stance is "it depends".

As Molly so succinctly puts it:

"The context of the design is what will decide."

This is the attitude that any sensible web developer will adopt. My point was this: I don’t see that theory being followed through in practice. It seems to me that most sites are built with fixed width layouts by default.

Now, I don’t know whether that is the right or wrong decision for any particular site. My concern is purely about how that decision is reached. I have the strong suspicion that many people are choosing fixed width layouts simply because it’s the done thing.

I’m worried that the reason for choosing fixed width layouts could become circular:

"Most sites are built with fixed width layouts, therefore I will build my site with a fixed width layout, thereby increasing the number of fixed width layouts."

Sometimes this kind of emergent consensus can be a good thing. But it clashes head on with Sturgeon’s Law, which simply states:

"Ninety percent of everything is crap."

The principle certainly holds true for the web. The majority of websites are built with invalid, hacky markup.

Anyway, that was the concern I was trying to express. I wasn’t trying to suggest that liquid layouts are always the right thing to do. There are strong arguments for using liquid layouts and it seems to me that very few people are making them. If nobody talks about liquid layouts, how will anybody know whether or not to use them?

The theory that the "fixed or liquid" question should be answered on a site-by-site basis is a very sound one. But it only works if the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches are clearly understood.

Developers are more familiar with fixed width layouts because they are so prevalent. The benefits and drawbacks are clear. Knowledge of liquid layouts, on the other hand, has almost become arcana. There’s a lot of FUD floating around out there on the subject.

Somebody needs to talk about this stuff more. If that somebody is me, so be it. But that doesn’t mean I’m a zealot.

I’m not "pro-liquid" or "anti-fixed". I just want to redress an imbalance of information.

If the majority of sites were built using liquid layouts, I’d probably be arguing the reasons for considering fixed width layouts. As it stands, fixed width layouts don’t need anyone to champion their cause.

Liquid design, on the other hand, needs more people like Richard Rutter and Nick Finck. Sign up now - your web needs YOU.